If you’ve read our previous blogs in this series, you’ll be aware of just how impactful S/4HANA is in the manufacturing sector.
A transformation is underway in manufacturing. The ‘smart factory’ is becoming a reality, automating key processes, and welcoming in a new era of opportunity. Efficiency, agility, and transparency are on the table. And those willing to embrace technology will find themselves ahead of the pack in a post-pandemic world.
But there’s another aspect to digital transformation that we shouldn’t forget. Amid all the exciting technology and gadgetry, it’s people who make the gears turn in tomorrow’s factories. Yes, roles and skills will evolve, but no matter how much you automate, human talent will always be critical.
In this blog, I’ll look at the workforce behind the smart factory. What will it look like? What jobs will they perform? And importantly, with digital talent in short supply, how can manufacturers ensure they attract, develop, and retain the skills needed to push into the future?
Tomorrow’s manufacturing roles will be vastly different to those commonly found today.
The biggest shift will be the reduction of manual labor. It takes a huge amount of physical effort to produce at scale. Whether manual assembly on the factory floor, quality testing or maintenance, it takes a lot of people, a lot of time, to get things done.
Automation and technology will continue to unburden the workforce of many physical, repetitive, and often dangerous tasks. Technology will enable factories to automate – and even improve upon – key processes, freeing up workers to tackle more challenging jobs. Additionally, it enables new approaches to existing challenges.
An oft-cited example is that of the digital twin. Traditional QA testing involves taking a product sample, putting it under a variety of stress tests, then examining it closely to measure the results.
With a digital twin, all of this occurs in the digital realm. Engineering data is used to create a digital representation of a product that can. Whether it be dropping the product from a skyscraper or raising the temperature to that of an active volcano, employees can test this twin again and again under any condition they like, and receive detailed, real-time data in return.
This data can then be fed back into the design process to ultimately create a more robust, intelligently designed product.
The digital thread is another common example. Rather than a factory existing as a series of disconnected processes, smart factories will see a thread of data running through each silo. Rather than employ dozens of heads to monitor equipment and operations, data can be viewed across a single dashboard, giving owners unprecedented transparency.
Neither of these examples require traditional manufacturing expertise or experience. Instead, they require digital skills – people with experience building and running applications, and working within a digital environment.
Broadly speaking, there are five skills that will be needed in the fourth industrial revolution:
- Technology and computer skills
- Digital skills
- Working with tools and techniques
- Critical thinking
- Programming skills for robots and automation
These are the areas manufacturing should push towards in the future in their quest to become future-proof enterprises.
But in a competitive recruitment environment that may be easier said than done.
The fight for talent
The problem is these digital skills aren’t yet common within the manufacturing industry. There’s a significant skills gap that manufactures need to address. And unfortunately, these skills are also in demand by other industries.
The digitalization of society results in a convergence of desirable skill sets. In the past, bank and manufacturing workforces looked completely different. But as more industries embrace digital transformation, they are both starting to covet the same individuals.
And it’s not just banking, but also retail. Automotive. Insurance. Construction. Technology is the future of all of them. Yet each sector has completely different expectations of compensation, perks, and career trajectory. How can manufacturers compete for talent with FinTech? Why would a developer choose a career in manufacturing when similar roles in finance are more lucrative?
Manufacturers will need to carefully monitor the competition, and work out how to make jobs as compelling as possible.
But of course acquiring skills isn’t just about bringing in new heads. Upskilling is also going to be key for manufacturers. Through retraining, manufacturers can retain the loyalty of their existing workforce and gain important new skills without having to fight other industries.
In-house training, learning courses, and on-the-job training are the preferred training methods at the moment. But this will have to be greatly expanded to keep up with the pace of change. Manufacturers will need to increase their investment in training programs and integrate digital technologies to help their employees stay ahead.
In truth, most businesses will probably acquire talent through a combination of hiring and upskilling. The very makeup of the factory will be different – and in term of employees’ day-to-day roles, mostly for the better. Mundane, repetitive, and physically demanding jobs will be automated, enabling employees to focus on more engaging and stimulating jobs.
As more manufacturers embrace technologies that require a next-generation digital core, this workforce shift will become more and more apparent. The pandemic has forced many to reassess their work-life balance, and so workers will demand and expect greater flexibility. Many in manufacturing will also be looking at other sectors realizing the benefits from a hybrid mode of working.
It’s an exciting prospect for sure – but businesses need to be prepared to fight for the skillsets of tomorrow.